The post is part of series looking at the image of God. We have seen how the gospel critiques our culture’s view that reality is malleable and desire is sovereign. In this final post in the series we see how the gospel also offers a better alternative.
Remade in the image of Christ
So if flourishing involves being conformed to reality, what’s the reality to which Christians are to be conformed? Colossians 3:5 begins ‘therefore’. This pattern of putting to death evil desires (mortification) stems from a new reality. And Colossians 2:20 begins, ‘Since you died with Christ …’ 3:1 begins, ‘Since, then, you have been raised with Christ …’ Our defining reality is the cross and resurrection of Jesus. We’ve died with Christ and risen with Christ. So we flourish to the extent that we’re Christ-like or cruciform, to the extent that we follow the path of the cross in the power of the resurrection.
Look at verse 10 of Colossians 3: we ‘have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.’ The gospel restores our humanity. For to become like Christ is to become like God because Christ is ‘the image of the invisible God’ (1:15; 2:9).
- So the image of God is not just our origin, but our destiny.
- And that means the church is a witness to the future of humanity.
- And the future of humanity is Christ.
Because being made in God’s image was a relational reality, being remade in God’s image is also a relational reality. We’re remade together as God’s image. So the sins of verse 8 are communal and the virtues of verses 12-15 are communal. You can’t do them on your own! This is why the church and church planting have to be central to mission.
Paul ends that list of virtues with the words ‘be thankful’ (3:15). This is so important. It’s not that if we behave in a certain way then we will create a new reality or forge a new identity (activity ð identity). It’s not, for example, that if we live in peace then we will create one body. It’s the other way round (identity ð activity). It’s because we’re one body that we’re to let Christ’s peace rule our hearts (verse 15). It was the Serpent’s lie to say that being ‘like’ God was something to be grasped when being like God was already gifted to us. Our identity is given, not grasped.
Belief in justification by faith is another way of saying we’re not self-defined. Instead, we’re defined or redefined by God. Our identity is a gift. We’re redefined by God’s word – the word which is creative, covenantal and grace-filled.
Humanity is not the climax of creation, Sabbath is. We are made for rest, worship, relationship. Personhood and identity are not the product of our work. Sabbath is a reminder that life is a gift.
Remember: wisdom is to live in conformity with reality. And we don’t create reality – not at a fundamental level. We don’t create our identity. The gospel is the good news that God has created and recreated reality. Being thankful is a recognition that who we are is a gift from God. So we flourish as we live together in conformity to that gifted reality.
So the old adage ‘Know thyself’ still stands. Our new self is ‘renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.’ (3:10). We grow as we know ourselves to be ‘God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved.’ (3:12) We grow as we tell one another, ‘You are dearly loved by God.’
But that’s tough in our world which says we’re self-defining, self-creating and self-evaluating. So in verse 9 Paul says, ‘Do not lie to each other.’ That doesn’t simply mean, ‘Don’t tell fibs’. It means don’t echo the lies of the culture in the church. Why not? Because ‘we’ve taken off the old self’ with its attempts at self-rule, self-creation and self-evaluation. Instead we are ‘renewed in knowledge’ – the knowledge of who we are in the image of our Creator. Instead of being self-defined, the Christian community is to be word-defined. So, as verse 16 says, the word of Christ must dwell among us richly.
Imaging God together
One final thought … What’s an ‘image’? The word is usually used in the Bible of an idol. King Nebuchadnezzar sets up an ‘image’ of himself to represent his power and glory. This means the true God is represented by us! God placed humanity in his world to reflect his glory. In Deuteronomy 4 Moses reminds God’s people that they did not ‘see’ God at Mount Horeb. ‘You heard the sound of words but saw no form; there was only a voice.’ (12) So Israel is not to create visible forms for God by making images or idols. But then Moses says: ‘But as for you, the Lord took you and brought you out of the iron-smelting furnace, out of Egypt, to be the people of his inheritance.’ (20) ‘Out of the iron-smelting furnace’ is the language of idol-making. Israel is not to make idols because God himself has made an image of himself to represent him in the world – his own people. The world will see the goodness and love of God in the life of the covenant community. This is how God is made known to the nations.